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Video: Naomi Long was diagnosed with skin cancer during flag protests

Alliance leader Naomi Long speaks to BBC reporter Mandy McAuley about her skin cancer diagnosis 

ALLIANCE leader Naomi Long has revealed she was battling cancer at the height of the flag protests.

The newly-elected leader said she was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer, in 2012 when she was under threat from loyalists.

The 44-year-old was sent death threats following a decision not to fly the Union flag over Belfast City Hall other than on designated days.

Mrs Long underwent surgery and said she has been clear of cancer for over three years now.

In an interview with BBC Spotlight to be broadcast on Tuesday night, Mrs Long described it as the most terrifying time of her life.

"I guess a cancer diagnosis kind of puts a bullet in the post in perspective because, you know, whatever politics can do to you, whatever threats people can make, there is nothing quite as frightening as when your own body is working against you," she said.

Mrs Long said she did not highlight her health issue at the time, as she did not want to be seen as a victim.

"If I had talked about it then, it would have been portrayed as me wishing to be a victim and I am nobody's victim," she said.

"I wasn't seeking people's sympathy and I didn't want anyone to think I was seeking sympathy."

Mrs Long said she had first noticed a mole on her wrist which was bleeding and after the cancer diagnosis had the mole surgically removed.

She did not require any further treatment but has had further moles removed as a precaution.

Naomi Long talks to the Irish News about the flag protests:

The Alliance leader, who talks about her life and career in the programme, said she is speaking out now to raise awareness for the disease.

"A third of us will face cancer at some point in our lives," she said.

"And I think we as a society need to talk about it more. We need to be better at supporting each other in terms of how we deal with it, and also we need to recognise the success stories.

"Because there are success stories and we need to give people hope for the future and encouragement to believe that there is a life after a diagnosis."

Spotlight is on BBC One tonight at 10.40pm.

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